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Teacher be taught
Being a school teacher is tough these days. From being a step ahead of iPad-carrying students to making elaborate data sheets, from looking good in class to networking with paranoid parents, new age instructors are working very hard to stay relevant in a constantly evolving classroom.
There was a time when mothers would bring up their daughters telling them "Ladkiyon ke liye teaching line best hai (Teaching is the best profession for women). " Six hours of lessons to largely disciplined batches of students - and perhaps a bit of homework-monitoring - and one could return home to take care of the family. Watching teachers knit in the staff room or snack on peanuts to fill up empty hours was as common in real life as their sad caricatures in reel life.
Now, though, teaching in city schools has changed beyond recognition. In smart classrooms across the country chalk and blackboard have been replaced by stylus and screen. Tech-savvy teachers upload entire chapters, exercises and question papers online. Old, tattered registers with green pages and ink stains are a thing of the past. Teachers these days maintain exhaustive academic records of each student on data sheets that run into hundreds of pages. And there's little time to catch up on the latest school gossip because there are computer presentations to be made on innovative methods to teach mathematics, or on ways to inculcate life skills in pre-nursery students. In between, one has to constantly update parents about their super-achiever child's performance through text messages.
Whatever happened to the teachers covered in chalk dust who lazily thumbed their way through course books and piles of correction material?
They have turned a new page, of course - those earlier chapters have been closed, at least in most private schools in Indian cities. "The choice was to adapt or be left behind, " says Shanta Mishra, a Delhi-based school teacher who's been teaching for more than a quarter of a century. "Teachers have to perform now;and it's a performance of a different, more dynamic kind. They have to learn new syllabi, evaluation methods, the manner in which schools are run, and be familiar with technology, " says the teacher who had to enrol in a computer course a few years ago to learn how to use the internet and store data online. She can make data files and surf the net on the latest teaching tools. But, she says, "My typing speed is still slow. It takes me up to an hour to type a question paper. I miss the use of paper and pen. "
Since the entire school education system is in a state of flux - comprehensive continuous evaluation, objective-type examinations, smart classrooms being some of the latest reforms - teachers, too, have to cope with the new demands and dimensions of the work place. "My role now cannot just be confined to teaching and corrrecting school work. I have to create a friendly environment to prepare a student for his or her life. I have to embrace technology so that I can be a step ahead of my wards. In order to shape leaders of the future, teachers need to take a more defined leadership role, " says Sarita Badhwar who teaches at The Daly College, Indore.
Indeed, it is children who are pushing teachers to change, instead of the other way round. Cut-throat competition and sky-high expectations of parents give teachers a school full of super achievers to instruct. "Children can any time log on to the net and find out about any topic. They already know about the lesson before you teach them. So, as teachers, we too need to upgrade our knowledge to stay relevant in the situation, " says Sapna Sukul, a teacher at Bloom Public School, Delhi.
To keep up, teachers need to constantly upgrade their skills. Teaching workshops, seminars and computer training courses are the order of the day as teachers need to be at ease with different forms of media to make lessons more interactive and engaging. To teach a particular concept, for instance, teachers first draw up a lesson plan on the computer. They debate what tools to use. "I think of computer games or field games that will help children understand the concept, or an excursion that will help them grasp the idea better, " says Sukul. The accent is on group activities, like theatre, to engage children in class work. Such modern methods of teaching were unheard of even in the '90s. It would be a rare treat for students if their teacher took a class outdoors in the school field. "As teachers, we'd have to take special permission from the principal to teach kids outdoors, " recalls Mishra.
DUDE WITH THE CHALK
Not only are the teaching methods in a process of churn, the sartorial image of teachers, too, is up for inspection. Careless, shoddy dressing won't do. Recently in one of the Delhi Public Schools in the Capital a Sanskrit teacher had to do away with his bodhi (sacred tuft of hair) because students made fun of it. "In all these private schools there's a clash between the backgrounds of students and teachers. Students usually hail from moneyed background and teachers from the middle classes. So the only way for teachers to impress students is with their knowledge and image, " says Dr Shyama Chona, educationist and former principal of DPS RK Puram, Delhi.
Along with the teaching tools, the approach to dishing out lessons is also being modified. A decade ago, it was common to see teachers focus just on class toppers. Now teachers are asked, and expected, to pay equal attention to all students. For someone who went to school in the '80s and the '90s it sounds strange to hear teachers expound on the theory of multiple intelligences - spatial, linguistic, logicalmathematical - and the technique to keep them all in the mind while teaching. "Earlier, it was enough to just throw together some notes and questions. But now when I draw up a lesson plan, I sit and think for hours on how to make it relevant for all eight intelligences, " says Anita Srivastava, another teacher at Bloom Public School, who's been in the profession for 17 years. "All these new-fangled ideas sound so remote to my generation. When I was in school, students would feel lucky if teachers managed to finish the course in time, " says Rubela Bhattacharya, a project manager with Sapient Technologies in Gurgaon.
Completing the course in time in this day and age is the least of the worries as teachers try to fit in new roles and tackle new tasks every day. At Kulachi Hansraj Model School in Delhi's Ashok Vihar, teachers were asked by the management to start writing blogs and use them as teaching tools. At Cambridge School in Indirapuram, teachers were given non-fiction books to read and review to improve their vocabulary. In Mumbai's Podar World School, Santa Cruz, teachers have been trained to use iPad 2 because most of their students use it and bring it to school. At the Cathedral and John Connon School in south Mumbai, teachers have designed an entire new curriculum for Hindi in a bid to make the subject more exciting for students. "The curriculum includes CDs, advertisements as well as audio clips that make Hindi more relevant for students, " says Meera Isaacs, principal of Cathedral. A great deal of effort went into creating the curriculum which Cathedral school teachers developed in consultation with parents and students.
Teachers are multi-tasking, working hard like never before. In fact, teaching is now only a part of the job. Skills like event management and public relations are a must, as is confidence and knowledge to interact with the media. It's not surprising their work spills over to after-hours. "With the wide range of activities and numerous responsibilities teachers are expected to fulfill, working beyond the usual six-hour day at school is not uncommon. Teachers also stay back often to clear any pending work. Other than that, they have many stay-backs for school activities and training sessions. They also attend subject-related workshops organised within or outside the school, " says Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal, Springdales School (Pusa Road) in Delhi. To make things worse, many schools have made Saturdays working days for teachers. "We end up bringing work home, too. I usually sit on the computer after dinner and work till late, " says Sukul.
It's been a nasty change for those who joined the profession for its supposedly easy hours - the rigours of the modern school life have left them quite out of breath. "The demands are very high from the learners' side, " says Kalpana Mohan, principal of Vidyashilp Academy, Bangalore. "Children these days have so much exposure to the world and various sources of information that it's a challenge for teachers to stay one step ahead of them. If students have to learn 'A', teachers have to know 'A+10'. Parents are also much more hands-on and don't accept shoddy teaching. "
And why shouldn't they, considering the steep fees they pay. Parents are deeply involved in their child's school activities, especially in the lower classes. Teachers are expected to be in constant communication with parents through email and text messages. In a Gurgaon school, teachers were told by the management to take calls from parents at any time of the day.
Such close proximity between parents and teachers stands in stark contrast to the distance maintained by these two sets of guardians in the past. Vandana Lulla, principal of Podar World School, recalls an incident that highlights the sharp difference. "When my daughter was in school, I visited her Marathi teacher and asked her advice on how my daughter could improve her grades in the subject. The teacher said she had no idea who my daughter was and that I'd need to carry a photo of my daughter so that she could identify her. The teacher said she taught Marathi for all classes and there was no way she could remember students individually, " says Lulla, adding that teachers would not be able to get away with such statements today.
Not surprisingly, it is the older bunch of teachers who are the worst affected by this systemic churning. When they joined the profession, probably in the '80s, teaching was a cushy job and teachers enjoyed huge amounts of respect from students and parents. It is hard for them, towards the end of their careers, to suddenly come face-toface with confounding technology, bratty students, paranoid parents and endless assessment forms. Their teaching training programme had never prepared them for all this. "We're under a lot of stress. But what hurts us the most is the behaviour of students. They laugh at us, and they are totally out of control, " says Alpana Sharma, 58, principal of NC Jindal Public School in Delhi's Punjabi Bagh. Adding to their anxiety is the intolerance of the school management. "If you don't change, you are left behind, " says Srivastava.
TEACH 'EM RIGHT
What's even more worrisome is how teachers' training programmes, like B Ed and M Ed, which were supposed to equip them with the gear to meet new challenges, have failed to keep pace. "Overall restructuring of the B Ed syllabus has not happened, but changes have been recommended by National Council for Teacher Training, " says Anita Rampal, head of faculty of education, Delhi University. "We have introduced informal changes, though, like a compulsory component on technology, and improvised school experience programmes. We are also concerned that the present one-year or nine-month B Ed programme is not enough. It needs to be of two years' duration. Talks are also on for developing an integrated four-year training programme that can be taken up immediately after school," says Rampal.
But in the mad rush to impress students and parents with cutting-edge technology and highly-skilled teachers, is the final goal of the whole exercise - good education - getting sidelined? Experts like Rampal agree it is and feel that these changes are "impressionistic". Schools are bringing in superficial improvisations without addressing fundamental flaws. For instance, the number of students per class in most private schools is still very high. "One-on-one interaction with students and compiling extremely detailed assessments become gargantuan exercises for a teacher dealing with 45 pupils in a class. Will she really be able to do a good job of it?" wonders Kavita Devgan, a Delhi-based nutritionist and mother of a school-going child.
That's the big question to which even the iPad carrying, Face-booking, Tweeting and texting teachers have no answer.
- With inputs from Anahita Mukherjee and Shrabonti Bagchi
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